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December 2009 / January 2010
Superior Audio Equipment Review

North American Premiere
Jungson Audio JA-99D Integrated Amplifier
Producing a very high degree of audio truth.
Review By Todd Warnke

Click here to e-mail reviewer.

 

Jungson JA-99D Integrated Amplifier  I love integrated amplifiers. When done right, they eliminate the need for one expensive interconnect and one expensive power cord. Plus, the designer doesn't have to guess what is going to sit either in front of his amplifier section or behind his pre-amplifier section, so he can pair them exactly as he sees fit. Lastly, in the hands of someone with a sense of beauty, the ability to put both parts in a single box can lead to some visually lovely designs. Speaking of which, let's wander over here and look at the Jungson JA99D integrated amplifier.

At 15.5 inches wide, 20.5 inches deep, 10 inches tall and 103 pounds, the 99D is one large hunk of metal, but it is beautifully crafted metal. The matte black aluminum finish helps it look smaller than it actually is and helps focus attention on the front fascia where, sitting in an inset panel are two old-school analog power meters, gently waving their red hands in a blue backlight. Just below the meters sits a blue LED readout, which shows the source number (1 through 4) and the volume setting (00 through 99), while under this and on the outer frame of the fascia are five silver control buttons, the larger center button for power and the two to the left for volume (up and down) and the two to the right to turn off the display (why anyone would do this is beyond me) and for source selection. Round back and at the top, the 99D has three high quality RCA inputs, a single balanced input, and an RCA line out connection.

Jungson JA-99D Integrated Amplifier RearThe bottom of the rear plate has two pairs of speaker jacks and the IEC power jack. The rest of the 99 is very well machined and designed with an eye to aesthetics as well as function. On the inside this impressive case the 99 houses a class A, 100 watt (8 Ohms, 200 watt 4 Ohms) fully balanced design, using premium parts and a massive power supply. The only minor miss in the whole package is included remote control. While very functional and well made, it is finished in brushed aluminum and so looks slightly out of place. Still, at $4500, I can easily forgive the remote and enjoy the beauty of the 99D itself. Of course, a pretty face and $5 will get you a cup of coffee in audioland, where what matters is how you sound not how you look. So, if you'll lend me your ears, let's talk about music for a bit.

 

The Sound Of....?
Jungson JA-99D Integrated AmplifierOver the review period the 99D spent time with a broad selection of gear. Speakers used ranged from Merlin TSMs and my VSMs, to Silverline Audio Panatellas and Devore Gibbon Super 8s. Sources were my Assemblage DAC-2 and a Cary CD 303-200. Wiring was from Cardas, Acoustic Zen, Audio Magic and Stereovox, while power conditioning was by Shunyata Research. But enough of this and let's get to it.

As most of you know by now, I cannot go a review without spinning some Joni Mitchell, but that's only because I have a tough time going a week without Joni. So one of the first discs that saw time with the 99D after it was setup and broke in was Court and Spark [Asylum 1001-2], and I have to say that from the very opening piano notes of the title cut I was captivated. The keyboards that open this track were perfectly precise and accurate and yet harmonically rich and inviting. But not even that goodness prepared me for when Joni started to sing as the tonality of her voice was so perfectly rendered that I about wet myself. Truth is, it took about a half dozen times listening through the song, wrapped up the sound of Joni, before I was able to turn my attention to the rest of the musicians. Good thing I eventually did as they were as equally well served by the 99D. From John Guerin's subtle cymbals to Milt Holland's chimes the top end was clear, extended and tonally complex, while Larry Carlton's guitar was fluid, rich and precise just as the bass of Max Bennett was solid, vivid and oh so present. For an introduction, there is could have been no finer way to get to me.

Taking on a less established and yet still classic album, I next turned to In Rainbows by Radiohead [tbd 0001] and Weird Fishes/Arpeggi. For reasons I'm not sure of, this song speaks to me. The opening, skittering drum line precisely marks time, even as it unsettles the near romantic washes of sound that follow. Sound, by the way, that the 99D rendered not as sterile sonic experiments, but with an uncanny balance of the truthful distortions of the recording session and the warmth of the mind behind it. Yes I know, semi-mystical mumblings masquerading as a review. But the thing is the 99D was able to take this track and neatly reveal both the sound of the recording tape, warts and all, while also giving equal time to the harmonic richness that lays open the human element.

At the start of a different listening session I dropped in disc 4 from Keith Jarrett's At the Blue Note, The Complete Sessions [ECM 1578] and clicked to track 5, I Fall in Love too Easily/The Fire Within, and prepared to walk off for a bit while Keith and his trio worked through the opening tune to get the part I like, or at least that was my plan as within thirty seconds I was sitting and listening like I never had before. Why? Without adding more mumbo-jumbo to the review, the answer is hard to pin down in its entirety but has a lot to do with the melding of two ideas accuracy and harmonic richness.

To start with it's not that the 99D has the most accurate sound I've had in my home, as I've on rare occasion had components that sounded even more "accurate". Nor is that the 99D the most harmonically rich and dense component I've had at the Warnke Mountain Casa de Sound, though again the pieces of gear that have been richer are only one or two. Rather, it is that the 99D sits near the very top of both these sonic approaches and then weaves them seamlessly together. This combination of superb accuracy across the frequency spectrum, harmonic richness that is in every way the exact compliment of its accuracy (which is coupled to a stage that is clear, fleshed out and lively) is a very rare combination, and this engaged me as if the music was live. Perhaps, dare I say it, even better than live at times.

Ok, time for details, even if they inevitably fail to describe the whole story. Starting at the bottom, the 99D has bass extension that was flat well into the mid 30 cycle range and where it does begin to roll off, it does so slowly. At the top the treble is that enviable combination of silky smoothness with tonal accuracy and clear definition, all while reaching out as far as my speakers can. The mids were cut from the same cloth harmonically full, yet precise, accurate, quick and with the complete tonal palette to work with. If there is a frequency issue anywhere besides the very gentle deep bass roll off, it is that the 99D seemed to have a very subtle lift to the lower mids that gave the male voice a very slight added bite.

As for the staging, the 99D did not render things in that immense slightly over the top way that some gear does, rather it tended to the intimate side by just a tad. Personally, I find this approach wears better over time. That nit aside, images on the stage were dense, unwavering and harmonically solid, giving the stage a full-blooded, 3-D presence. As you would guess from this, inner resolution and decay into the soundstage was near perfect as well.

 

Problems In Paradise?
So then, what exists on the debit side of this ledger? Nearly nothing. There's that remote that could be black. As I just said, the stage could be a bit wider. Aside from that it starts to get tough to find things, but being a reviewer I kept looking and got a bit unfair in doing so. I did that by placing my full reference set in place Blue Circle BC6 power amplifier and First Sound Presence Deluxe II pre-amplifier, a combo that is three times the price of the 99D. Yet, in a way, this comparison has some validity as the Blue Circle is a class A amp, though with only 30 watts to the 99Ds 100, but as such shares the class A sonic signature fast, rich, clean, full. It's on the front end, where the monster, four-chassis First Sound makes things a bit unfair, but that's never stopped me before.

Fortunately, the 99D had very little to fear. My reference setup did have slightly deeper and oh so slightly better controlled bass (almost entirely from the pre-amp side of the equation), and a touch more lively top end, though perhaps just a bit less accurate as well (probably due to the tubed input stage on the Blue Circle). The stage was wider, and images just the smallest bit more stable. As for harmonic accuracy, it was a near draw with the 99D having a slightly richer mid-bass (perhaps a smidgeon too much so) and my setup being ever so better in the mids and lower treble. In short, my reference setup did better the 99D, but at well over 12k more in cost (including cables).

So here's where the comparison gets interesting was the difference enough for me to be comfortable with the investment in my gear as opposed to the value offered by the 99D? Well, if I was giving advice to a friend with a total audio budget of under 10k, obviously I'd say get the 99D, some excellent speakers and a source and be done with it. At 20k, I'd say the same thing. Someone would need to spend well over 25k before I'd even suggest moving past the JA99D. That is, I think you'd need to have at least 20k invested in loudspeakers, sources and cabling before the 99D would become the weak link in the system. It's really that good.

 

Summation
It seems to me that those who embark on audio pursuits can be defined as falling into one of two camps those who value truth over all, and those who place beauty before everything. The truthseekers are willing to tolerate (and perhaps even secretly embrace) the sonic warts in recordings as well as in their playback systems so that they can uncover those minute details, the subtle tonal contrasts and the smallest of harmonic changes that allow them to feel they have found the "reality" of the recording. While those who search for beauty push absolute perfection aside in the search for the emotional content, harmonic richness and rhythmic power that connects them with the "meaning" of the recording.

And while all audio components, at least those of recent vintage and that truly reach for audiophile status, combine both of these attributes, it is the rare piece that balances these two seeming opposites in perfect symmetry. In my audio travels I have encountered only a small handful that pull that delicate act off, but I have also found dozens that come close enough to be very valuable in assembling an audio system. For example, the Blue Circle BC6 power amplifier that has been my long term reference offers up many audio truths, just about as many as any component I've had the privilege to spend time with, but even with that skill, its emotionally expressive side is just so overwhelmingly perfect that it slides slightly out of balance. But couple it with the unfailingly neutral First Sound Reference preamplifier that has been a long term reference and you have a combination that is balanced exactly. This balance is exactly what the $4500 Jungson JA99D pulls off as well, but in one box and at very slightly lower level (and at a third of the cost). First, it extracts a very high degree of audio truth out a recording and then pairs it to an exactly equal amount of musical truth and delivers a perfectly balanced, incredibly captivating result. It's a shame it has to leave.

 

 

Specifications
Type: Stereo solid-state integrated amplifier
Features
Class A fully symmetric non-negative feedback balanced output design
High-Class 500,000 uF filter capacitors (Japan), 22uF couple capacitors (Japan)
Sanken semiconductors - 12 pairs (Japan), and Jensen cabling (Denmark)
Blue LED front meters that can be turned on/off as you wish
Stepped high bandwidth volume control with multi function remote control
Power Output: 100 wpc stereo @ 8 Ohms (200 @ 4 Ohms)
THD:< 0.05% (1 kHz/1W)
S/N Ratio: > 100 dB
Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz ( 0.5dB)
Input Impedance: 100k Ohms
Color: Black aluminum casing + Black aluminum front panel
Size: 18.5 x 16.9 x 7.5 (DxWxH in inches)
Weight: 104 lbs.
Price: $4500

 

Company Information
Jungson Audio
Japan
Website: www.jungson.com

 

North American Distributor
Grant Fidelity
Calgary, Alberta
Canada

Voice: (403) 251-0466
Website: www.grantfidelity.com


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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